THE PLANK JANUARY 8, 2009
It came out a few days back, but I hope nobody missed the New York Times's fabulous character profile catching up with Georgian President Mikheil "Misha" Saakashvili, five months after the war with Russia. Misha, ever striving for American interest and sympathy, told Ellen Barry that he had recently selected a new, less ambitious model for his presidency:
Just 36 when he became president in 2004, Mr. Saakashvili set out to
become a historic figure: a model he has often cited is David the
Builder, a 12th-century king who drove the Turks out of Georgia and is
worshiped as a saint. ... Lately, he said, he is less attracted to the model of David the
Builder and more to George Washington, who, he said, “could have been a
king, but instead chose to give up power, and become a democracy.” “It’s something I’m thinking about more and more,” he said. “George Washington.”
Misha's shifting role model got the University of Kentucky's Robert Farley and me* thinking during our Bloggingheads.tv dialogue: What might Obama's model be? People have thrown out FDR, and obviously he's attracted to Lincoln. I suggested Obama ought to read (or reread) Henry IV and Henry V -- but Farley objected, saying there's a different president who's more like Prince Hal:
George W. Bush seems an obvious analogue to Prince Hal -- both are scions who pissed away their youths drinking and raising hell, and then, in the end, trumped a more ambitious, straight-arrow opponent to assume power.
But, while I didn't make this argument in the heat of the diavlog, the wonder of Shakespeare's Hal is that he's not nearly as limited as Bush has turned out to be. An interpretation of the play series suggests that the supposedly screw-up Hal shrewdly plotted the time he spent screwing around, to give himself a different sort of popular education and to create an impressive narrative trajectory for his life, one of redemption, from rogue to real hero. Obama has also consciously sculpted the narrative of his life and his political career, which also tracks swiftly from being a nobody to becoming an establishment dragon-slayer. And he's entering his presidency with the kind of expectations Hal faced at the beginning of his reign.